Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Save the Date - Casket Tour

I am a bit behind in getting all the details in stone and written up for everyone - but we have been working and are close to getting the Casket Tour of England ready to announce.  I know that many would like to know that there is a tour and what the dates are - so the dates are October 14-24th, 2015.

As soon as we have all the details final (we have been working since last summer) we will post an announcement and details as well as when we will start taking reservations.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Disappearing Craftsmen - Scissors

I was interested to see this video from the BBC about the Sheffield scissors makers - but also disappointed as I have been in Sheffield twice in 2010 (once on the Jacket Tour) and we could have visited the scissors makers!!  Ernest Wright and Sons, Ltd are one of the few handmade scissors makers left, but the internet is giving them new life and their apprentices are now in the first 18-months of a 5-year apprenticeship.

I will be ordering some scissors so I can think about cutting the threads that I know who made with scissors that now I know who made!!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Robots

Teamwork at the beginning of the day.  Their posters behind
them go over their research project on dyslexia and grit
and robot design process/programming - they made all that.
Christmas has been a bit depressing this year with my FIL in hospital/rehab so having our robot kids around has been a godsend to divert our attention.

So my little team ran their 'little robot that could' over and over at the MA State championship a few days before Christmas.  Their results were stupendous - this contest is for kids 9 - 14 with 9 being a bit soft and we took advantage of that in the spring of 2013 to have the kids join their older siblings/friends to run to the National level.

Well, hanging out with the big guys and watching them for years really seems to pay dividends.  In what should have been their first year as a team - they won the 2nd place robot performance award for the second highest score out of 400+ teams.  My big team never cracked higher than #7 in performance.  They managed to improve their robot programming in the two weeks between contests and could hit 530 on a good day - 471 in competition.  They only lost out to the team they beat in the qualifier (a team of 14 yr olds) who also won the entire state and are on their way to the World competition.  In the afternoon while
About ready to run for their high score.  This is run with
16 tables inside a full college basketball court with flashing
lights, buzzers, thousands of spectators screaming and MCs
narrating on loud speakers - a dyslexic nightmare.
By the time the eliminations had started my guy was so sick
with a headache that he laid on the ground outside throwing up.
I was so proud of the team - he was the best driver and on two
of our driving teams and they took
over, mixed driving teams (they practiced choreography
for a month so they could be down to 12 sec total in
base to replace attachments) to replace him and
weren't fazed and went onto win the elimination
after six rounds.  I have emphasized GRIT all year
long as the most important life skill and they have
absorbed that in spades.  Bad run? Get back on that horse
and do it again and again until it is great.  Paid off.
the judges deliberate, a fun (and trophy winning) contest is held as a single round elimination - half the time and two teams join together to compete their robots, joining their score.  It is fast paced and really fun for the thousands who watch.  My little team won the whole elimination -- beating out that Worlds team in the finals.  The Worlds team is a great set of guys - we have been competing against them for years with the big team - lots of respect between them and us.  They won't be going on to the next level of robotics as their town doesn't do it -- so we were happy to see them get the big prize of the day.  Deserved it!

I am so happy to finally have two girls on my teams.
These girls are very smart and full of verve and grit!  I am so
looking forward to working with them for the next ten years
We were terribly excited to win two trophies as well as to score very high in the research side of the day.  The little team is at a huge disadvantage as being nine makes it pretty hard to answer questions as insightfully as they will in a few years - they often don't understand the point behind the question.  It wasn't until my other team were 11 that they even made it to the States.  When you realize that they are programming this robot to follow lines by doing math on the light sensor values, do boolean logic, and auto align itself over and over on tables that could be bigger or smaller than regulation - it is really amazing what they have done before they can even do long division!  My son told me yesterday that he found out he never learned how to multiply two digit numbers by two digit numbers in his old school (math was behind) and thus failed his homework last week in the new one (where math is accelerated).  But he can quickly write a master program to run all the separate programs automatically with all kinds of if-then loops  (Yet another reason why this contest should be required for all schools - what they learn in practical ways blows away curriculums).

When they finish building their team website and 'publishing' their research project - I will post it.
Two trophies!!  What a haul!
They came up with a comic book tool for dyslexic tutors to use with newly diagnosed dyslexic kids to help them understand they have strengths that balance out the reading difficulties - as self esteem is the biggest stumbling block for dyslexic kids to succeed.  They have endorsements from every major US dyslexic organization as well as orders in the hundreds for copies just from one.  Pretty cool for being so young.  One group tried out the comic with a set of students and they all cried - it resonated so much with the kids.  Our group has many dyslexics in it and so they just were able to articulate in a way that really connected kid-to-kid.

Normally this would be the end of robot season for me... back to embroidering.  But the big guys have my entire dinning room turned into a robot competition zone and have been programming/building non-stop as school is out.  I have no less than 4-9 of them in there everyday trying to get multiplexers, sensors, IR beacons, and 3-stage lifts and servos all to work seamlessly.  They go to early February at least unless they are lucky enough to move on.

A pair of digital glasses a MIT friend let me borrow from
a kickstarter campaign - they played "First Lego League"
across the grated lenses all day
Thank you to the lovely ladies on the East Coast Casket Tour - they made a lovely donation which was used to print the comic demo copies to send to dyslexic organizations as well as buy materials for the big team.  The big team just presented its outreach work to the MIT Edgerton center.  This center develops hands-on-STEM activities for kids and will be incorporating many that our team has developed in a national summer camp this year.  So your donations are having ripples to many, many kids!

Every year I have a theme for my teams - based upon what they need to learn and internalize to become great over the long haul.  This team needed to learn GRIT.  They are talented and have grit in other aspects of their life but hadn't all learned yet that they could apply it to academic areas.  Not a surprise as they all are square pegs in the round hole of school - very, very smart but don't fit the mould.  So while they might be the type that practices music or sports for hours a day to improve - they didn't see the translation to their challenges in the classroom where their learning style was different from the curriculums.  So we spent tons of time in discussion, practicing, watching Ted talks on grit, and taking the grit test.  We learned that you have to believe that you can improve to have grit in that area.  Very profound and the subject of their comic book.  I am thrilled to say that I saw the transformation and internalization of these lessons during the months I hammered on it.  You think you can't program as well as him?  Well, just get in front of that computer until you can.  We must have practiced their talks 30 times until they could smile at the judges, have it memorized and speak clearly and fit 20 slides in 5 min.  They are learning that 'being bad' at something isn't a pass out of it on my team.  It is a ticket to more practice towards mastery.

As they say in FIRST - "Its the Hardest Fun I've Ever Had"

Friday, December 26, 2014

Day 12 - 12-Days of Christmas Giveaway

Day 12 brings us some pamphlets of 17th century embroidery from the Lady Lever Museum in Liverpool!  There are five sets of these to give away.  To enter - send an email to me at with LADY LEVER in the subject line.  Send it by midnight EST on Dec 27th and make sure to add your postal address (and yes, I do pick international winners too!)


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Day 11 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

Day 11 brings us some yummy fibers - soft wool, silk chenille and some silver twist!  To enter - send an email to me at with THREADS in the subject line.  Send it by midnight EST on Dec 26th and make sure to add your postal address (and yes, I do pick international winners too!)


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Day 10 - 12 days of Christmas Giveaway

Day 10 brings us a set of five Just Cross Stitch magazines! To enter - send an email to me at with JCS SET  in the subject line.  Send it by midnight EST on Dec 25th and make sure to add your postal address (and yes, I do pick international winners too!)


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Day 9 - 12-days of Christmas Giveaway

Day nine brings us some bookmarks of 17th century gloves from the Fashion Museum in Bath!  There are two sets of these to give away.  To enter - send an email to me at with BOOKMARK in the subject line.  Send it by midnight EST on Dec 24th and make sure to add your postal address (and yes, I do pick international winners too!)


Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 8 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

On Day 8 we have a really good one - the issue that features Rachael Kinnison's amazing beaded basket!

If you would like to have a copy of this issue, send me an email at with BASKET in the subject line plus your mailing address in the body of the message.  Send it by midnight on December 23rd EST.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Day 7 - 12 days of Christmas Giveaway

Another Just Cross Stitch ornament issue!  This time one for 2013 with more projects from Tokens and Trifles as well.

If you want to be entered in the drawing - send me an email ( by midnight on December 22nd EST with JCS 2013 in the subject line.  Then add your mailing address in the body of the message.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day 6 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

Today's giveaway is the wonderful book Samplers from A to Z by Pamela Parmal.

This was the small catalog for an exhibition that ran at the Museum of Fine Arts of Museum in Boston in 2000.

Send me an email at by midnight EST on December 21st.  Put "A TO Z" in the subject line and your snail mail address in the body of the message.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 5 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

Today is a copy of Inspirations Issue 81 (2014) with an article inside about the Cabinet of Curiosities course!

If you want it - send me an email at with ISSUE 81 in the subject line and your postal address in the body of the message.  I need the email by midnight EST on December 20th to put you in the drawing!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 4 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

Today I have four copies of a real yummy thing!  Copies of ROBE May 1667 a faux fashion magazine of the 17th century produced for the wonderful exhibit by the Royal Collection on Stuart fashion in the summer of 2013.

Four lucky winners will get a copy.  Send me an email with ROBE in the subject line ( by midnight EST December 19th.  Send your mailing address in the body or I will have to pass you by.

Hope you win!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 3 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

Hmmm - how about five issues of Piecework - most of 2013?  This will go to one winner of the random pick of emails sent to me at by midnight December 18th EST with PIECEWORK in the subject line.  And don't forget to send me your post office address in the email or I can't send it to you!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 2 - 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

Today the giveaway is a cute little notebook with an embroidered pattern on the cover.

The rules are the same - send me a email by midnight Dec. 17th EST at  Put NOTEBOOK in the subject line and SEND YOUR POST ADDRESS.

Hope you win!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

12-Days of Christmas Giveaway - Day 1

Yes!  I am doing my 12-days of Christmas Giveaway again this year.  I have been saving or collecting yummy things to give away in the spirit of giving.

Today's item is the 2014 Just Cross Stitch Christmas Ornament Issue and I have more than one copy to give away to lucky respondents.  I will chose the winners randomly from emails I get before midnight EST on Dec 15th.

Send JCS CHRISTMAS in the subject line so I can easily find your email.  AND your post address in the body of the email.  I won't be searching for your mailing address!  Send the email to

Then watch for the rest of the giveaways and you can enter for each every day!


P.S.  Thanks for all the well wishes for my father-in-law.  It has been a rough week and the future is
Total Elation at 460 points in 2 min 30 sec
hazy.  But fortunately we are also deep in our robot competitions and that has been a great way for my husband to keep busy and positive when not at the hospital.  I will leave you with a great photo - my husband made it to the regional competition from the hospital just in time to see our young team have a 'perfect run' of their robot catapulting them to the highest robot score in the state last weekend.   The kids were  understandably terribly excited as you can see on their faces (and they were going against a great veteran team of 14 yr olds).  Every year our mantra is 'one perfect run' in competition and this is the first time it happened in the six years of coaching.  They also won the most Innovative Research Award for their comic book for dyslexic kids which is going to be published (more about that later when it debuts publicly).  Quite the double play by the kids on a day we needed a pick-me-up having both stayed up all night at the hospital.  Saturday they go to the State Championship to see how well they can do.  They have worked 500 hrs as a team this season and it is showing!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Embroidery Frames - Linda Eaton

Linda Eaton has discussed the importance of maintaining the original mounts for needlework with the piece in talks.  Recently she published an online article about the subject.  She makes a good argument for what type of important information can be had from these auxiliary materials.
I will be starting my 12-days of Christmas giveaways soon.  Sorry for the light blog.  Focusing on lessons and shipping at the moment because I am in 'high robot season' and my Father-in-Law had a massive stroke on Friday.  He is improving a tiny bit but the future of what level of care needed is unclear.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Turkey, Gingerbread and Bots

I hope those in the US had a lovely holiday!  Mine was really nice yet hectic and eventful, I have to admit that the actual Turkey dinner was a sideshow to the main events.  There is nothing quiet about our Nov/Dec in this house as it is prime robot season with our competitions all in the several weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas (except the older boys now compete every few weeks until the
This WAS the dining room.  As soon as the
Turkey was cleared, they moved out the
furniture and set up the 14 foot square robot
field.  I hear I get it back for Christmas Day
middle of Feb).  So ALL the time the kids had off (except Thursday), they were here.  Literally I would have to walk around the house and count how many people were in it (my extended family, robot kids, robot parents, in-laws, etc) to figure out how many were eating at each meal.  The number wavered between 12-24 at times.  The spontaneous parties and kids blowing off steam with NERF all over the place added to the chaos.  I am letting the older kids run their robot team this year (learning to organize - growth but a loss of parent control) but that means that I never know what is up.  They text and 'call in reinforcements' as progress goes forward and that can mean that a few teens show up at the door at 8pm to work when I thought we were just emptying out!  (Time to get out more chips!)

Grandpa adding the ball track made from wreath forms while
watching football in my family room.  Note the almost finished
gingerbread train (it moves)
Add to that an event at MIT that my side of the family has gotten into and has become a tradition for us and it gets REALLY CRAZY.  MIT hosts something called the FAT (Friday after Thanksgiving) Chain Reaction.  It is a giant Rube Goldberg device that is built on that day with segments built at home by teams.  This was our 4th year doing it and we go nuts.  We don't start until my parents and brothers arrive in town for Turkey, work on it like mad with all the toys in the house and many trips to Home Depot and set it up in front of the football on TV, only taking breaks to cook and eat the turkey.  For a family that is all mechanical, this is a crazy thing to collaborate on as we all think we
know what is best.  I guess it keeps us from arguing about politics.

We haul ourselves down to MIT on Friday and set up.  It takes forever to tweak it to work and usually still requires 'the hand of god' to move a ball that gets stuck somewhere in the movements.  The public comes in around 1pm and they swarm around all the teams and ask questions and watch your segment run.  The whole thing goes off around 3:30pm and is filmed in a crazy dance to much audience delight.  Almost 2000 people are there.  Tons of kids and that has become our speciality - doing something that delights.  What I am really proud of is how many teams over the years have told us that they came the year before and saw ours and decided they could do it and got their kids doing it with them.  That is awesome!  I am not sure if they are thinking 'heck - I could do better than that!!' or if our team's use of things we have laying around the house is inspiring for last minute prep.  We always limit ourselves to kid-friendly materials, which of course delights the kids as well.  We were the first to use toys and now that is a major theme of teams.
Fox news interviewing my oldest on our team's link.  In addition
to the moving gingerbread train that transported the ball, there
was a lego elevator, a robotic arm (to remove the ball from train),
long winding aerial ball track and a Lego CNC machine he built to
carve the year's theme (17) into a block of floral foam (a big
crowd pleaser).

This year, our theme was gingerbread.  Yes, half our set up was edible and that was a first.  I have been asked for years to redo my legendary moving gingerbread train (my kids remember it from their baby years), so we did it again.  The Lego robot teams used their breaks in competition training to decorate our houses for the set up (a convenient excuse to sugar load before going back to robot tweaking!).  My mom had to bake tons of cookies as diversionary materials for the robot teens and grown-up men so they wouldn't raid the structural gingerbread.  There was generally too much sugar imbibed by all.

The Rubicon X team.  What you can't see is the wire structure
in the air that carries the ball around - it disappears in the picture.
So the hilarious thing is that our link in the chain reaction has been photogenic each time and we have gotten an amazing amount of press every year.  This year we were the picture in the Black Friday events around the nation in Time Magazine.  And those who have met me personally won't be surprised by the description of my family in this Boston Globe article.  We are team Rubicon X (as in Crossing the Rubicon).  In past years we have used Hex Bugs to push the ball, brought robotic talking hamsters,
and used more Knex, Legos, than you can shake a stick at.  We still haven't incorporated live animals (this has been done with bunnies and ducks) but I am thinking of training my hamster for 2015!